Harley’s Legendary Willie Davidson Interview

A giant of the motorcycle industry is hanging up his official riding boots, but it’s safe to say you’ll see Willie G. Davidson out on the roads atop the bikes he had such a powerful role in designing.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Harley-Davidson Motorcycles confirmed recently that Willie G. – the direct descendant of the legendary company’s founders – will retire as Chief Styling Officer at the end of April. When you consider that the man held the job for 49 years, it’s safe to say few men living today have had as much to do with the look of the modern motorcycle – at least cruiser and touring bikes – as Willie G.

Perhaps Harley-Davidson had an inkling Willie G. was getting close to his big announcement when they brought him down to Miami Beach for the recent roll-out of the a couple of the last bikes he helped to design, the 72 and the Softail Slim.

During the event, we had a chance to sit and interview Willie G. about the design philosophy he helped to build into two generations’ worth of motorcycles. While you might be expecting a Harley-Davidson design bigwig to be some boisterous, ink’d up, sun-baked table slapper, Willie G. is a thoughtful, measured, soft-spoken man who seems to be considering history with every word.

Crave Online: What do you think is the lasting impression you’ve left – that a Harley-Davidson has come to leave – during your time with the company?

Willie G.: I think it’s the development of the V-Twin – the look, the sound and the feel that the engine provides. It all defines the riding experience of a Harley motorcycle.

I have always had a real passion for design – as far back as I can remember. I think I’ve always looked at our motorcycles as works of art.

Crave Online: Do you think you were able to pass than on to those who ride your motorcycles?

Willie G.: I think it’s become part of the culture that Harley-Davidsons are a form of freedom and personal expression. I think those concepts are essential to what we do here and always will be.

Crave Online: Look at your last few years with Harley-Davidson, what do you think the biggest advancements were?

Willie G.: I remember how much work went into the design and construction of the V-Rod line. I think it was such a strong addition to the line, but also a new avenue for us. I was always very proud of it.

Now, with the addition of the 72 and Softail Slim, I think we’ve continued to bring distinct new designs to the line that also look back and salute our heritage.

In the end, as we flash a peace sign to Willie G., we leave you with his final official statement from Harley-Davidson:

“Throughout my life, I have been truly fortunate to have the opportunity to marry my passion for design with my love for this amazing brand that runs so deeply in my veins. What’s most rewarding has been to see the impact our motorcycles have on the lives of our customers. Everything we do in styling is based on the notion that form follows function, but both report to emotion.”